Assessment Appeal Law

Property Tax Assessment Appeals

Find a Real Property Tax Attorney

In down economy, tax protests roll in to Taos County Assessor's office

By J.R. Logan - Taos News

With all the news about recessions and cratering real estate values, Bill Dedmon wasn't pleased when he got a notice saying his property taxes would be 36 percent higher this year.

On Monday (May 23), Dedmon filed an official protest with the Taos County Assessor over the value attributed to two pieces of vacant land in the Arroyo Seco area.

"It doesn't make any sense," said Dedmon in an interview Monday (May 23). "Here they are sending out a 40 percent increase, when they ought to be sending out a decrease."

Dedmon's is among the 400 protests that have already been turned in to the assessor, according to cheif appraiser Gerald Nichols, and the deadline for filing a complaint isn't until June 6.

With home sales still floundering, and the real estate market grappling with a pair of land grant deeds that have stalled transactions, some Taos County property owners are baffled when they see their taxes on the rise.

"We understand what they're saying," Taos County Assessor Darlene Vigil told The Taos News Tuesday (May 24). "If you look at the economy, the market is certainly not up. But with the data we have now, we know that we were never at market (value)."

Vigil explained that when Taos real estate was exploding around the middle of the last decade, property values were increasing by as much as 18 percent per year.

But most property owners didn't see that kind of increase on their tax bills. To complicate matters, taxes are based on the market from two years ago, meaning property owners are paying taxes on what their homes were worth in 2009.

And though property values have been on the slide for several years, Vigil said her office is still trying to make up the ground it lost during the boom.

"Even with the decline, we're still catching up," Vigil said.

In fact, Vigil said the county estimates that, on average, properties in the county are at only 65 percent of market value. For homeowners, the state offers some protection from skyrocketing taxes.

New Mexico law dictates that home values can only increase by 3 percent per year. But if a home is sold or undergoes a significant remodel, the assessor is required to bring the value of the home up to the current market — a phenomenon referred to as tax lighting. When it comes to vacant land, there is no such cap.

And in New Mexico, only 1 acre of land on which a home sits is considered residential. Any additional land above 1 acre is not protected by the cap.The lack of recent sales is also making things more challenging for the assessor and more frustrating for property owners like Dedmon.

Shifts in property value are largely based on actual sales prices — known as comparables or comps. But with lackluster sales, comps have been few are far between. Dedmon sees this as a major problem with the value increase attributed to his vacant lots. To prove his point, he asked two local real estate agents to help him find recent sales near the Vista Lejos subdivision in which his land sits.

"Both have accessed Taos County databases and report to me that there have been no land sales in the Vista Lejos area in 2009 nor 2010 and nothing to date this year," Dedmon wrote in his letter of protest.

"There is no value indicator that would show any increase in value," he added later in the letter.

Vigil said the paucity of sales has made it more difficult to determine values. But she said her office has other methods to calculate what a property is worth.

"There are many variables, and that's where the interpretation and analysis comes in," Vigil said. "We do have to make some logical assumptions."

With a week and a half remaining before the protest deadline, Vigil expects formal protests to continue to roll in. Though county assessors have 180 days to clear the protests through informal meetings or through the protest hearing process, Vigil said the state doesn't expect such hearings to begin in Taos before November. The delay could spell trouble.

County revenue predictions are already bleak, and properties under protest are extracted from the county tax base, meaning other property owners may see a slight rise in their tax rate to make up the difference. For the last two year's the assessor's office has been flooded with protests.

There were about 600 individual protests in 2009 and another 408 the next year.